Rituals over Resolutions

Rituals over Resolutions

As Spring approaches and the weather warms up, I naturally begin to think of a reset — starting with our home and surroundings, I begin to make mental followed by physical checklists of the things I have to do, changes I want to make, ideas I plan to explore. Everything is ripe for recalibration. It feels good to organize. My skin care will need adjusting, as do our diets, activities and routines. It’s a time to refresh and step out of Winter’s relentless darkness and enjoy warmer, longer days and nights.

For me, I’ve always believed Spring to be the official ‘start’ of the year. In Western astrology, Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, and it occurs on March 20, marking the beginning of a new cycle and setting the stage for the year ahead. Aries signifies vitality and confidence — the feeling of being alive and that everything is possible. We get a dose of new energy and desire to get a fresh start. 

Each year around this time, my to-do list suddenly explodes. Ideas, projects and plans piled up on top of things to sort and organize. I literally have to roll up my sleeves to tackle it. It feels good to get started, but most of the time I end up with a stack of unfinished projects, half-baked plans and guilty feelings that deplete me by the time the Summer rolls around. So how can we stick to our intentions and use this energy more effectively?

Back in January, I took note of this idea, wrote it down and filed it away. Make rituals, not resolutions. After all these years, it clicked.  


Get your timing right

I think part of the reason why so many people fail at change is the timing. Take  “New Year’s resolutions” for example; January may be the chronological start date of the year, but biologically it often feels out of sync with our own systems. Who wants to hit the gym in the dead of Winter, or drink a green juice? Not me. I want to wear fuzzy socks and drink chai lattes on my couch. And that is perfectly okay. Spring seems to me like a more sensible time for a reset. If rituals are activities that are connected to time — they are done in a sequence, style or manner that speak to order and alignment, then it’s important to get the timing right.

Set your ‘reset’ clock. This is the first step in establishing a ritual. Choose March over January and seek momentum from here. Take the pressure off of doing any of this when you’re not ready. Spring may be a good time for some people, but maybe you want to pick another date, like a birthday or another time of the year that truly works for you. 


All or nothing

When you’re setting new intentions, it’s inevitable you’ll come up with some of these more all encompassing but vague resolutions like “I need to clean out my closet”, or “I have to actually use ALL these products I bought”. Your list grows, and you’re determined to make all these changes. Except, who needs a whopping big bunch of resolutions? These are often loaded with unsavory emotions like guilt or pressure. The weight of all your past failures come at you and you’re just trying to do something with this stuck energy. You might toss out a couple of big bags and feel good, briefly, but then it all piles up again and you go through this whole cycle of shame and obligation again next year. Who needs that? 

Instead, break the all or nothing mentality and make it a ritual. To resolve my seemingly endless closet battles, I simply put a rope basket in my closet. Whenever it’s time for me to let go of something, it gets tossed in there. Once the basket fills up, I either send it to ThredUp or walk it over to the nearest Salvation Army. It’s less daunting than rummaging through your entire closet, and then getting so fed up with yourself and the whole process, you throw everything out. That might be helpful for some people, but I find these extremes too stressful and downright traumatic. 


Checklist for change

Consistency is one of the biggest issues we all face. We start off strong, and then we either get distracted, listless or side tracked. This is the area I have often struggled with, until I found something that worked for me. Jerry Seinfeld wrote comedy every DAY. And he did for YEARS. There’s no secret to his success. He turned it into a ritual. And what he did was use a calendar (imagine that!) — the kind you buy at the drugstore for $10 — to keep track and stay motivated. On the days he wrote, he would put a big juicy red X over it. He confessed that nothing gave him more satisfaction that seeing a row of bright red Xs across the calendar. Ultimately he kept going so he wouldn’t ‘break the chain’ of those Xs. If you’re the type of person that doesn’t want to break a chain, try it — it works.

I combined my love for to-do lists, and gratification for checking things off that list into a daily ritual. Every two weeks I put up a chart, with the date on the top row, and a column of tasks to the left. I aim to check off 5-6 things each day. The top 3 things are a must-do (meditate, write and gua-sha), and the rest are a menu of other things that I rotate through based on time and energy levels. Creating some flexibility, being able to see progress and ‘check off’ a box keeps you going. The small, incremental changes eventually become rituals that you sustain, which end up sustaining you. 

Progress over perfection

Rituals are daily actions or intentions and they are powerful when you do them. Using the power of ritual to create changes, rather than setting big resolutions can also be an effective way to reach your goals. I always remind myself it’s about progress, not perfection. Aiming for perfection is a very quick way to tumble down that failed resolution ladder. Don’t overlook starting small, and breaking things down in a way that feel manageable to you. Whether your intention is more general, like ‘eat better’ or more specific like ‘meditate for 20 minutes each day’, choose to connect the moments, rather than concentrate on getting ‘there’. With ritual, there is no ‘there’ — it’s a sequence or something you do in a specific way that feels right to you. A resolution fees like “I’ve done this one thing and it’s over”. Instead, identify the things you want to ritualize and build into your every day life. Then try to create a personal way to chart your progress. You’ll see that part of the enjoyment is in finding your own path to reach outcomes that feel good to you. And the better you feel, the more likely you’ll stick with it. 

Spring is an incredible time to start some new routines and try new things. Instead of looking at your to-do list, see how you would approach going through it a little differently this year. These are just some things I’ve done to help make changes. What do you want to bring in more of this year, and how can you do this in a positive way?  What can you ‘ritualize’?

Photo by Ashley Batz from Unsplash.